Penguins go big with selections at NHL Draft
VANCOUVER — A concerted effort? Maybe not.
Head scout Patrik Allvin said the choices the Pittsburgh Penguins made in the NHL Draft this weekend in Vancouver were, in large part, dictated by who the best available athlete was when their turn came around.
Quebec area scout Luc Gauthier said the top three characteristics the Penguins look for in draft picks are still character, speed and skill.
But did a pattern emerge? There’s no question.
Days after the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins finished up a car crash of a Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins used their first three selections to add big bodies to the prospect pool.
Their top two choices, first-rounder Samuel Poulin and third-rounder Nathan Legare, might as well be twins.
They’re power forwards from Quebec with exceptional size, high motors and impressive offensive credentials. They also won’t be winning any speed skating medals.
“If you look at their body types, both are over 200 pounds,” Allvin said. “You gotta work on the quickness a little bit, but there’s no concerns. A couple years here, and I think they’re going to fit perfectly to the style of the Penguins. That’s good.”
It’s a bit of a departure for the Penguins. In 2016, they won the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup championship with a team built on speed. At last year’s draft, the four players they picked, led by 5-foot-10 offensive defenseman Calen Addison, averaged 174 pounds.
It’s also a bit of a gamble for the Penguins. A prospect who can’t keep up with the speed of the modern pro game is bound to bust.
In the case of Poulin and Legare, though, it’s a chance the Penguins are willing to take.
“If you look at the Stanley Cup Final, the way St. Louis played, Boston played, they’re big, they’re strong and they skate,” Gauthier said. “Both of those guys have those qualities. For sure, both need to improve a little bit of their speed and their explosiveness. Right there, we’ll see in the next couple years where they are.”
The similarities between Poulin and Legare go beyond style of play or how they fit into an organizational philosophy.
They’re good friends and have been since they played on the same team, with Poulin’s father, former longtime NHL forward Patrick Poulin, as their coach when they were 7 or 8.
They train together in the summers, working with former Penguins trainer Stephane Dube and former Penguins winger Ramzi Abid.
“It will be very great to train together and to go to Pittsburgh together,” Legare said.
After drafting the power-forward twins with their first two choices, the Penguins took Judd Caulfield from the U.S. National Team Development Program in the fifth round.
He’s even bigger — 6-3, 204 pounds — and also has to answer questions about his skating.
Like Gauthier, he also watched Boston and St. Louis duke it out and liked what he saw.
“I think the teams are probably trying to find a good blend between (size and speed),” Caulfield said. “Watching the Stanley Cup Final this year, there’s a lot of big guys. Really physical series. Hopefully us bigger guys can bring that physicality to the Penguins and help them out in that category.”
Picks aside, it was a quiet weekend for the Penguins.
On Friday night, general manager Jim Rutherford said it’s “highly unlikely” he’ll trade stars Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin this summer. A potential Phil Kessel trade remains stuck in limbo. Even a deal to move out goalie Tristan Jarry, an obvious trade candidate because he’ll have to clear waivers to be sent to Wilkes-Barre in the fall, didn’t materialize.
Rutherford said he expects to make another move or two before training camp opens, so the exact course of the offseason remains cloudy.
The Penguins’ philosophy at this draft, however, was crystal clear.
They went big.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .